Fellow Profile: Victoria Cowling

Victoria Cowling is a Professor of Biology in the Centre for Gene Regulation and Expression at the University of Dundee. Professor Cowling’s research centres on the role of an mRNA modification process known as the mRNA cap.

mRNA stands for messenger ribonucleic acid and is one of three kinds of RNA with a function in protein synthesis. The mRNA cap is formed in the cell nucleus and protects the ends of mRNA molecules to guard against attack by nucleases, while also promoting mRNA function during the initiation of translation (a vital step in protein synthesis).

Professor Cowling’s laboratory is currently investigating unknown aspects of the mRNA cap function in different cell types. They have found that cells regulate the rate and extent to which the mRNA cap forms, resulting in changes in cell function and fate. These findings are contributing to the development of new therapies that could inhibit tumour cell and parasite growth and proliferation. This work is being carried out in collaboration with the Dundee Drug Discovery Unit, a cross-disciplinary facility working to translate cutting edge biology research into new drugs and therapies.

Professor Cowling has been a Lister Fellow for a number of years. The Lister is funding research into mRNA cap function in T cells, key cells of the immune response to infection. Regulation of the mRNA cap has the potential to change T cell function which may be important in cancers and auto-immune disorders. This work has also attracted other high-profile funding arrangements in recent years and allowed Professor Cowling to expand the laboratory and deepen investigations into this critical area of biology.

As Professor Cowling explains:

“Funding from the Lister Institute provided invaluable funds when my lab was just starting, which were used to initiate drug discovery projects and recruit key members of staff. The Lister funding allowed us to initiate a risky project in T cells which has now demonstrated that mRNA cap regulation has a key influence on T cell function. This work has now been funded by the European Union. The Lister Institute is confident in its awardees to make the best decisions about what their research projects need – which leads to surprising and important findings.”

The Lister Institute is pleased to support Professor Cowling and we are looking forward to observing more of her success in the future.